If you have been cutting down on additives for fear they are unhealthy, think again. They perform a useful variety of function in foods

THE word "additives" can send shivers down the spine of a health-conscious person. But they are not all as unhealthy as you might think .

Mr Lim Meng Thiam, a dietitian at the Health Promotion Board, says : "There is no evidence to show that an additive-free diet provides health benefits. Additives perform a variety of functions in food that are often taken for granted." For example, food additives keep bread mould-free, improve the crispiness and nutritional value of cornflakes, and help cake better to rise. Unsaturated cooking oils without any antioxidant additives turn rancid faster.

Ms Chew Pei Gee, president of the Singapore Nutrition and dietetics Association, says : "Most additives are added for specific reasons which one way or another, link to health." For example, nutritive additives improve the nutritional value of the certain foods, like calcium in soy milk and fibre in bread.

Some natural additives are added because they get lost during processing . For example, Vitamins B1, and B2, and iron are added to bread and flour. Functional additives are added for freshness and safety, and to enhance the flavour and visual appeal of a product . These can include both naturally and synthetically produced additives. Of course, too much of certain additives are bad. Processed foods tend to be higher in fat, salt and sugar content than their fresh equivalents. Colouring has been linked with hyperactivity and learning disabilities in children in the United state. But there no scientific evidence to prove this. Nitrite, a preservative found in cured meat, has been shown in some studies to react with certain food components to produce cancer-causing agents. But Ms Chew says that food regulation here ensure that the level of nitrite in food is very low.

Indeed, from the safety perspective, the types and levels of additives in foods are strictly regulated in most countries, including Singapore. The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore conducts regular checks on food products to ensure that only permitted food additives are used within the limits stipulated under Singapore's food regulations. There are some steps that you can also take to cot down on the harmful effects of preservativese.

Mr Lim suggests including fruit and vegetables in a meal that contains preservatives Studies have show that the vitamins in fruit and vegetables may have a protective effect against any potential harmful effects of the preservatives used. Preserved or processed foods can also be used as an ingredient to flavour a dish, rather than serving them on their own. Or, as Ms Chew advises: "Buy fresh foods. Read the food label and be an informed consumer." Reading labels is especially important for those with allergies.

Additives which have been found to cause allergic reactions include sulphites found in dried fruit, wine, beer, canned or dried soup, and pickled foods; monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in seasoning, canned or dried soup and sauces; and aspartame which is found in artificially-sweetened products. Those concerned about allergies should consult their physician.


Emulsifiers : Keep ingredients like peanut butter and ice-cream blended.
Examples : lecithin and monoglycerol
Anti-caking agents : Stop ingredients sticking together or clumping.
Examples : calcium silicate and silicon dioxide
Humetants : Keep food moistand soft.
Examples : glycerine and sorbital
Stabilizers and thickeners :
Help ensure a smooth and uniform texture.
Examples : methyl cellulose, guar gum
Anti-oxidants :
help keep food from spoiling.
Examples : Vitamin E and ascorbyl palmitate
Colourings :
Restore colour lost from food during processing or add colour.
Examples : annatto and sunset yellow. May be listed by a code number, like colouring 342 or as 'permitted colourings'.
Flavourings :
Add Flavour to food.
Examples : herbs, spices and vanilla flavour. May be listed as 'permitted flavourings'.
Vitamins and minerals :
Increase the nutritional value of a food.
Examples : vitamin C, calcium and iron
Sulfites :
Prevent changes in colour and flavour. Found in dried fruits. Some wines also contain sulfites ti prevent bacterial growth.
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